25 Jul 2016
With the 23rd winter Olympics underway in PyeongChang, we look back at ANZ’s contribution to the Olympic movement over the years – including an important but largely unnoticed role in the 1956 games in Melbourne.
The 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne almost didn’t happen. Political unrest in the Middle East over the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian revolution led to a host of countries boycotting the games.
“Until recently, [Olympic] success remained a highly collective effort between the Australian Olympic Federation (AOF) and Australian businesses.”
The unrest was compounded by Melbourne’s position in the southern hemisphere. The reversal of seasons made it an unpopular choice with a lot of athletes who traditionally rested in the northern hemisphere winter when the Melbourne Games would be held.
There was also domestic political wrangling over funding which delayed construction of venues and athlete accommodation. At one point, IOC President Avery Brundage was on standby to take the games away from Melbourne and hand them to 1960 host Rome.
In addition, Australia’s strict quarantine laws also meant equestrian events had to be held five months earlier in Stockholm.
As the first city in the southern hemisphere to host the Games, there was a lot at stake. The local population and businesses were at pains to put on a good show and demonstrate a comparatively new city was ready to host an international event.
Along with other businesses, ANZ played a key role in welcoming the world to Australia. As official bankers to the Organising Committee, the bank established branches in Darwin and Perth to welcome visitors arriving by boat. They traded at all hours to accommodate arriving ships which could dock at any time of day.
In Melbourne, ANZ opened a branch on the corner of Collins and Swanston Street to support visitors to the Games in the nearby Olympic Park.
The special branch featured a travel and information bureau for visitors. Bank employees who had language skills were employed as interpreters for overseas visitors.
There was also an ANZ branch in the Olympic village in Heidelberg with interpreters and extended opening hours. In the days before ATMs, branches needed to be staffed over extended periods and were open from 8 am to 10 pm, seven days a week during the Games.
The efforts were part of a successful Olympics. Holding the events outside Europe and America for the first time gave the Olympics a truly global feel, emphasised by events being televised around the world.
This global nature of the Games was underlined by the closing ceremony in which athletes mingled together rather than walking behind the flag of their country – the brainchild of Melbourne man John Ian Wing – a tradition which remains to this day.
These collective efforts were a key part of the Melbourne Games earning the name of the ‘friendly games’, in many ways setting the standard for global Olympics to follow.
For Australia (and ANZ), it was the start of a long association with success at the Olympics.
Until recently, success remained a highly collective effort between the Australian Olympic Federation (AOF) and Australian businesses. This was especially so with the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles when ANZ was official sponsor to the Australian team.
The sponsorship allowed ANZ to use Olympic trademarks on its products. In return, proceeds from the sales of merchandise were used to help send the best possible team halfway around the world.
ANZ also joined with Network TEN and the AOF to establish the ANZ Olympic Supporters Club of Australia, a major part of the Olympic fund raising activities. It officially launched on October 29, 1983 and Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke was the number-one ticketholder.
A key part of their fundraising activities was a national fundraising telethon, the first of its kind. The event, in which ANZ staff helped take calls, ran for 26 hours and raised vital funds for athletes who responded by bringing home 24 medals.
James Wilson is bluenotes history editor
The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.
25 Jul 2016
05 Oct 2017